Swiss stamps of the Standing Helvetia design were first issued in 1882, replacing the perforated Sitting Helvetia Issues. These stamps are among the most beautiful of any 19th Century definitive issues, and they are one of the most popular collecting specialties with Swiss philatelists.
There are a lot of stamps in this series, but using the Zumstein catalog approach, they are very easy to attribute. There were three different so-called "watermarks", four different perforation gauges, and two different papers, during the life of the series. The basic tools required to specialize in this series are a perforation gauge that measures in quarter-steps, a watermark tray and fluid, and a magnifying glass.
clarity, the different issues described in this page are presented in
Zumstein catalog order. I personally find this listing format very straightforward and
easy to understand. The Michel listings are excruciatingly precise, but they can be confusing.
The so-called cross-in-oval watermark is NOT ACTUALLY A PAPER WATERMARK at all! The cross in oval was impressed into the paper, as a control mark, after its manufacture.
Two varieties of the cross-in-oval
impression were used.
The first type, shown above left, was used from 1862 through about 1892. On the first type, the oval is 8.9 mm wide at its widest point. The branches of the cross are thicker, and the double lines of the oval are fairly wide apart.
The second type, shown above right, was used from 1894 through about 1904, when it was abandoned in favor of a paper that contained the Swiss cross watermark. On the second type, the oval is 8.4 mm wide at its widest point. The branches of the cross are thinner, and the double lines of the oval are very close.
Differentiating stamps with the two impressed control mark types seems easy, but it can be quite problematic. In some instances, the cross-in-oval
impressions were so heavy that they actually broke through the paper.
In other instances though, the impressions are so light that they can
barely be seen, even in watermark fluid. The cancellations on used
stamps can make identification even worse, by obscuring the area of the
stamp where the impression is located.
The second type is quite a bit taller than the first type, which can be of help in picking out varieties with rather obscure impressions.
The Zumstein catalog contains a chart with some great tools for identifying the impressions of the cross-in-oval, as well as the various perforation types on the standing Helvetia issues.
The first Swiss stamps of the Standing Helvetia design, shown above, were issued beginning in 1882. They were higher denomination stamps and complimented the lower-denomination Numeral and Cross definitives, issued at the same time.
The first issues were printed on white paper, impressed with the cross-in-oval type 1, and they were perforated 11 3/4. This perforation measurement is critical in identifying the stamps from this first set.
The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalog lists this set as being perforated 11 1/2. IT IS NOT!
It is incredible how many of these I've ordered, based on Scott
numbers, and when I received them, they WERE NOT perforated 11 3/4, but
usually the much cheaper 11 1/2 x 11 gauge.
20 C., 25 C., 40 C., 50 C., and 1 Fr. denominations were issued in
1882. The 3 Fr. denomination was issued in 1891. There are two distinct
shades on the 25 C., the first being green and the second being a deep
There is also a 30 C. denomination, in brown, which exists perforated 11 3/4, with the impressed cross-in-oval type 1. It is exceedingly rare and is pretty much unobtainable (about 100 examples known).
During 1888, the 20 C., 25 C., 40 C., 50 C. and 1 Fr. denominations were re-issued with perforation gauge 9 1/2. They were still printed on white paper with the impressed cross-in-oval type 1.
a couple years, the Swiss stamps of the standing Helvetia design, with
this gauge, were deemed unsuitable and discontinued. The large
perforation holes frequently caused the stamps to tear when they were
separated. As a result of their very short period of use, these are
very scarce today.
The 20 C., 25 C., 40 C., 50 C. and 1 Fr. denominations were re-issued in 1891 with perforation gauge 11 1/2 x 11. A new 30 C. denomination was added in 1892. All are shown in the scan above, except for the 50 C. denomination. These Swiss stamps were all printed on white paper with the impressed cross-and-oval type 1.
A 3 Fr. denomination also exists, but it is exceedingly rare, with about six examples being known.
is the point at which collectors of Swiss stamps tend to go insane, in
respect to determining the proper attribution. These stamps are
identical to the Group D issue below, except that Group D stamps have
the impressed cross-in-oval type 2. One has to be able to tell
which cross and oval impression the stamp has, with certainty, as the
Group C stamps are much scarcer than those of Group D. I am pretty sure
that my Group C stamps above are correct, but still, I wouldn't stake
my life on it!
In 1894, a new paper featuring the impressed cross-in-oval type 2 was introduced. This paper continued in use for all Swiss stamps until 1905.
The current standing Helvetia denominations of the perforation 11 1/2 x 11 gauge were printed on this paper. All of them are shown in the image above, except for the 30 C. denomination.
Between 1899 and 1903, the 25 C., 50 C., and 1 Fr. Standing Helvetia denominations were issued in changed colors. They are all shown in the image above.
Between 1901 and 1903, the perforation gauge for all the current Swiss stamps was changed to 11 1/2 x 12. All of them, except for the 1 Fr. claret and the 1 Fr. carmine, are shown in the image above.
Between 1901 and 1904, the perforation gauge 11 3/4 was again used for two Swiss stamps of the Standing Helvetia design. They were both printed on paper with the impressed cross-in-oval type 2.
The 40 C. denomination, shown above, was redesigned for this issue. On the redesigned stamps, the value numeral is small, and it fits below the oval. On the original designs, the value numeral was much larger and projected into the oval above.
There is also a 3 Fr. denomination perforated 11 3/4 stamp with the cross-in-oval type 2 control mark. It is very rare.
In 1905, a new white paper with a multiple Swiss cross watermark was introduced, and all Swiss stamps have been printed on paper with this watermark since then. The new watermark is shown in the image above.
The first Swiss stamps to be printed on the new watermarked paper were all perforated 11 1/2 x 11. All but the 20 C. denomination are shown in the image above.
In 1906, a new plate for the 25 C. denomination was implemented. The stamps were printed with both perforation 11 1/2 x 11 and perforation 11 3/4. Both of them are shown in the image above.
There is also a 40 C. denomination, printed on white, watermarked paper with perforation gauge 11 3/4, which is not shown in the image above. It is a relatively common variety.
In 1907, the 20 C., 50 C., 1 Fr., and 3 Fr. Swiss stamps were produced with perforation gauge 11 1/2 x 12. All but the 3 Fr. denomination are shown in the image above.
In 1907 a granite paper, containing blue and red silk fibers, was introduced, and almost all Swiss stamps for the next half Century were printed on this paper.
The current perforated 11 1/2 x 12 Standing Helvetia denominations were all printed on this new paper.
All of the collectible denominations are shown in the scan above. A 3
Fr. denomination does exist, but it is exceedingly rare.
Before the Standing Helvetia series was finally retired at the end of 1907, a few of the 25 C., 30 C., 40 C., 1 Fr., and 3 Fr. denominations were printed with perforation gauge 11 1/2 x 11. The basically collectible denominations are shown in the image above. The 30 C., 40 C., and 1 Fr. denominations are very rare and seldom obtainable.
Though the Standing Helvetia stamps remained valid until 1924, they were replaced by a brand new definitive series of Swiss stamps in 1908. Usages of the Standing Helvetia stamps after 1908 are very scarce.
Taking into account the basic denominations and colors, there are actually only 12 Standing Helvetia stamps. Most collectors choose to take the effort much farther than this though, as you can see how just separating the perforations and watermarks greatly expanded the number of stamps presented in this article. The majority of the standing Helvetia issues, in used condition, are NOT EXPENSIVE, so specialization is something that just about anyone could do with a little effort.
to do a life-long philatelic study on these? Some people have. There
are numerous plate-flaws and retouches on just about every stamp in this
series. The Zumstein Spezialkatalog Schweiz, 2000 edition, has over
sixty pages dedicated to the plate flaws on this series. There's also
postal history. The possibilities for specialization in the Standing
Helvetia issues are immense.
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